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10,000 view contest

BYU sponsors world's largest college ballroom dance program

More than 10,000 spectators gathered in the BYU Marriott Center for a national athletic event this March. During the month dubbed "March Madness" however, they did not come to see basketball, but instead to watch the two-step, polka, mambo, foxtrot, swing, quickstep, rumba, tango, waltz and cha-cha, among other dances.

Hundreds of participants from across the country glided across the Marriott Center floor in seemingly perfect step with their partners, bright costumes calling attention to their poise and grace. Those with near flawless performances were then called back to dance again in another round, taking them one step closer to the ultimate ballroom prize.

The United States National Amateur DanceSport Championships is not only an annual event in Provo, but also a dramatic example of the international recognition BYU's ballroom dance division has enjoyed during the past decades.

Today, BYU holds claim to sponsoring the largest university ballroom dance program in the world.

Curt Holman, director of BYU's ballroom dance program, credits BYU's ballroom dance success not only to the international recognition that school dancers have received in competition, but also to the BYU culture where community members and students enjoy the arts, and harbor an appreciation for dance.

Much of BYU's success finds its roots in early Church dance festivals — popular in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, he said. "There has been a lot of support within the activity arm of the Church, particularly in the earlier days."

And at a time when dance programs across the country are doubling or tripling because of reality television shows like "Dancing with the Stars," interest in BYU's program is what it has always been: high. Classes at BYU "are always full," said Brother Holman. "We have enjoyed a lot of public exposure throughout the years. "

BYU began teaching social dance in 1953. A dance team was formalized 11 years later and began traveling around the world. By 1967, the BYU teams were trained in the style of dancing used in international competition. The teams of the early 1970s put the school's program on the map internationally, attending the prestigious British championships and even winning that event. (The school holds 16 British championship titles.) And in 1993 the school hosted the World Amateur Standard Championships, the first time that event was held in the United States.

Today, the university has more than 2,500 students a semester taking some kind of ballroom dance class and BYU performing dance teams travel nationally and internationally as ambassadors for the university and, to some extent, the Church.

BYU students wear modest dance costumes, something those in the international ballroom landscape have come to expect from the school. Our costumes "are not a surprise to anyone," said Brother Holman. "People have come to expect that BYU is going to look different than all the rest of the competitors."

In fact, dancers performing in the Marriott Center for the 2006 National DanceSport Championships March 9-11 also had to meet a certain level of modesty in their costumes.

They don't really mind, explained Brother Holman, because the BYU community provides a lively audience that shares a love of dance unmatched anywhere else.

"It is an unusual thing to have an audience that is so energetic as the BYU audience," he said. "(Dancers) want to compete at BYU just to feel the energy of the audience. The name BYU has become legendary among ballroom dance competitors."

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